Josh Montag is one of the busiest guys in the local music scene, as drummer for bands Scattered Melodies, The Wiley Ones and Ruca. The 27-year-old Mesa resident works as a server at Pita Jungle, but his true passion is music, as is evident by the myriad shows you can catch him playing around the Valley.
Montag and his Scattered Melodies collaborator, Jake Johnston, are currently working on their second album, which will feature more than 30 musicians and different singers and guitarists on every track. Learn more about why Montag loves the drums, and watch him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I was 6 years old when my family moved here from California. I was born in San Diego and lived in San Jose before coming here. I went to Mesquite High School and studied film at Scottsdale Community College before studying music business at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
What’s your first memory of being interested in music?
I was introduced at a really young age, because my dad plays guitar and saxophone and played saxophone at church growing up. I took drum lessons for about six years, starting when I was around 11 years old. I took a break and did marching band for two years, and then my history teacher in high school was a really good drummer and taught me lessons for about another year at the end of high school. In about 2007, I took piano lessons for a year, and now I try to figure out piano myself.
What makes you passionate about drums?
I can just look at a drum set, and I get the warm, fuzzy feeling like you get with your lover. I remember when I was young, my older cousin played drums, and that was really cool, and I looked up to him. There’s just something about rhythms and beats and all the different things you can do and all the different sounds you can make with just one drum alone. I can constantly learn new things about drums and different styles.
Sometimes drummers aren’t given as many accolades as singers or guitarists. Why should they be viewed as a significant part of a band?
For one, you’re keeping the tempo, and that’s very important. Especially if you’re performing with a singer-songwriter who is more in the forefront, you need to be keeping solid rhythms for them.
A lot of people like to watch the drummers, too. I always watch drummers and always see people watching drummers because they’re entertaining, and I like seeing what style they have and how they go about it. I think drummers are very important even though they’re not on the microphone up front. They still have a lot to do.
How would you describe your drumming style?
I like reggae, funk and rock a lot. I like some jazz and African drums. I really like all styles of drums. I grew up listening to a lot of ‘80s music, which is weird, because there’s not a lot of drums in ‘80s music — it’s all computer-sampled drums.
Then, I got into more rock n’ roll, like Incubus and Foo Fighters. I would put those CDs on my headphones and just practice to those, because I hated practicing to a metronome – you may as well practice to some music. That’s where I got the rock style, and one day, I started getting into funk music. In high school, I played in a funk band for four years, so that got me into funk and different off-beats, and that led into reggae, based on people I met who were playing reggae.
Who is your favorite drummer?
That’s a really hard question, just because I have like six or seven favorite drummers. But, I would say my favorite drummer is Jon Theodore. He was the first drummer of The Mars Volta and is now currently the drummer for Queens of the Stone Age.
I got into The Mars Volta back in high school, and I remember being so influenced the minute I first heard their album De-Loused in the Comatorium. Instead of playing straight forward beats in the chorus of a song, he plays these crazy rudiments and drum variations while keeping perfect time — it blows my mind. The first time I saw him drum live changed my drumming, because he would rock out so hard and put every once of energy into it, and that’s what I try to do when I drum now. He is a drummer who, to this day, continues to challenge me and make me want to be better. That’s why he is my favorite drummer.
How would you describe your approach to songwriting?
My approach is that I usually have a drum beat or some lyrics, because I really like to write lyrics, and I really like to write stuff on the piano. I’m not the best singer, so I usually have a melody or ideas I sing to someone else, and then whomever I’m working with will put their own twist on it.
I try and stick to stuff people can definitely relate to. Some of it is stuff I’ve personally gone through, and some of it is stories I make up in my head. I put myself in someone else’s shoes and think about, if they were going through this scenario, what would they feel, and what would they do? Even though I haven’t experienced that certain thing, I try to envision what it would be like, and write lyrics from that.
How do you feel about the popularity of electronic dance music and beats being taken over by computers?
It’s been happening for years, but I feel like there will always be an audience for live acoustic instruments. I don’t think that will every die out. There is dubstep and all those different genres that have been getting popular, which is cool, but I think no matter how popular electronic music gets, organic music will still have wide popularity throughout the world.
What do you hope people take away from your live performances?
I hope people have a fun time and feel inspired. I hope they can experience music the way I experience music, because I love it so much and think it’s such a powerful tool for so many different things. If we could get that across, to get even one person leaving a concert to feel that way, then our job is done.
How do you think music is a powerful tool?
It seems like it’s a universal language. You can communicate with anyone through music and empower somebody and really inspire. I just feel like music is in my blood and everyone’s blood, and it’s something everyone can relate to. Everyone has their favorite genres, and not everyone agrees on the same style of music, but it’s music in general that brings people together.
I always wonder that, too, why I love music so much and why it’s so powerful, but sometimes it’s easier to say something through a song than it is to talk to someone. You express yourself better that way.
What’s the plan for the next Scattered Melodies album?
We’re currently more than halfway done, and we’re going to have 14 songs. There’s going to be a general theme about how we can make the world better and what each person can do. You can empower yourself and actually create the world you want to live in, and all the lyrics are based around that idea. Some of it is political, and some of it focuses on what goes on in your personal life or in your community.
The last CD was kind of all over the place as far as styles and lyric-content, so I want this one to be more centralized. Each song will still feature a different vocalist and a different guitarist, but I want all the songs to link together and have a strong message.
I want to have it done by May and sit on it all summer and release it probably in September. We have a lot of new artists on this one. We have Cori Rios from The Hourglass Cats, we’re bringing back Haley Grigaitis from Ruca and Anamieke Quinn from Treasurefruit, and we’ll have Tom Kumagai from a band called Mob Vs. Ballot Box. Sam Wiley from The Wiley Ones will be on it, as well as our deejay, Phelan, plus Doug Preston of Mister Lucky, Jack Howell of WilloDisc production house and Ruca, M.R. Mal, and Chelsey Louise from Fairy Bones. There will also be horn players, guitar players and some strings on some songs. We’ll have 30-plus musicians on it.
How would you describe Phoenix’s music scene today?
I feel like we’re in a transition period as far as the Tempe scene, because so many venues closed last year, maybe five of them. It seems like all the good venues are in downtown Phoenix. There are still some good ones in Scottsdale and Tempe, but I feel like the main focus right now is Crescent Ballroom and the FilmBar and that area in downtown Phoenix.
I feel like Phoenix is definitely on the rise. I went to the music festival Viva Phoenix last year, and walking around the streets and hearing music from all around the city, I felt like I was in Austin, Texas at South by Southwest. It wasn’t as big, of course, but that’s a really cool feeling to have. There are so many good bands in Phoenix, whether they get recognized nationally or not.
A lot of bands end up moving to California from Phoenix, and I think that’s kind of what has held Phoenix back. When a band is about to break or is on the rise, they’ll move to Cali, which I don’t blame them for.
I feel like in 10 years, Phoenix will be not as big as an Austin, Texas or Nashville, Tennessee, but I feel like it’s going to keep growing and getting bigger and better. The key is people staying in Phoenix and working together and not making it a competition. We’re all in it for the same reasons.
What do you think makes you a good drummer?
My drum set used to be a lot bigger, and I had a lot more drums and cymbals and would drum all crazily, but being a good drummer is playing right for what music you’re playing with and not overstepping your boundaries as a drummer. What I’ve learned is sometimes the space between your drum hits are equally or more important than what you’re actually hitting on the drums, based on who you’re jamming with and what style you’re playing.
There are such simple ways you can stand out as a drummer without doing crazy fills and being loud and trying to overpower everybody. That took me awhile to learn. That’s what I think makes me a good drummer, is that I know whomever I’m playing with, what to give them on the drums as far as what they’re looking for, so they can feel comfortable and do what they have to do on their own instrument and not overpower anything.
What are your goals?
My goal is to be a full-time musician. That’s really all I want to do. I want to be a touring musician. I want to be a studio musician. I want to be able to stay in Arizona and be a successful musician. I don’t want to have to move to California or New York or wherever. My goal is that one of the projects I’m in is going to take off, and that’s the next 20, 30, 40 years or however long it goes for.
What advice would you have for aspiring musicians?
Definitely have patience, because it takes a long time to perfect your craft. Stick with it. You’re not going to get good in the first year. Just stay true to yourself as a musician. If you want to go play pop music, go play pop music, but if you don’t want to do that, and want to play rock n’ roll or blues or some weird experimental stuff, do that, because that’s going to make you happy.
I feel like in the end, I’d be happier doing the music I love than playing for someone famous or popular and not enjoy the music. I’d still be touring and doing all the cool stuff, but it wouldn’t be for the type of music I’m passionate about. Stick true to whatever you’re passionate about.
Be professional, and just be nice to everybody. Even if the club owner or sound guy is a jerk, just be cool to everybody. Every show you play, you should play it as if it’s your biggest and best show, because you never know who’s in the crowd, and you never know who you’re going to inspire or what new fan you’re going to make.
What gear do you prefer?
I play a Gretsch drumset. I’ve had this drumset for seven or eight years now, and I love it. I have Zildjian cymbals, and the drumsticks I love and use most are the ones that don’t have any brand on them, because those are the ones that last the longest. I could get a nice set of Vic Firth drumsticks, and they could break the next day. I like the big bundles of sticks you can buy.
Learn about other Valley musicians:
Learn more about Jimmy Eat World singer and guitarist Jim Adkins here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Treasurefruit singer Anamieke Quinn here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about The Love Me Nots singer and keyboardist Nicole Laurenne here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Phoenix DJ Sean Watson here on Phoenix People.